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LONDON, May 4, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – An elderly British pastor was arrested last week and forced to spend a night in a London jail after passers-by complained that his preaching from the Bible on marriage and the family was “insulting.”
John Sherwood, a 71-year-old pastor of the Penn Free Methodist Church, was preaching outside of Uxbridge railway station in the northwest of London on the Biblical definition of marriage when police confronted him.
The authorities had received a number of complaints about Sherwood’s preaching that day, claiming the pastor had made “homophobic” comments as he preached on Genesis 1, saying “God’s design in creating mankind was to set human beings in families, headed by a father and a mother, not by two fathers or by two mothers. The distinction within mankind of just two genders, male and female, made in the image of God, constitutes the essence of God’s created order.”
The police confronted Sherwood, accusing him of causing “alarm and distress.” The 35-year veteran preacher dialogued with the authorities before continuing to address the crowd, turning his attention to the freedom of speech, Christian Concern reported.
As he resumed speaking, two bystanders, one who identified as bisexual and the other as lesbian, reportedly heckled Sherwood, declaring his preaching to be “homophobic” and “hate speech.” This prompted the police to take statements after which they violently tore the Bible from Sherwood’s hands and dragged the septuagenarian from the stool upon which he was preaching in order to place him under arrest.
The police took Sherwood into custody under suspicion of a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which lays out a broad description of “harassment,” including the use of “insulting words or behaviour … thereby causing … harassment, alarm or distress.”
Although Sherwood was later released without charge, an offense against the Public Order Act carries with it the possibility of a six-month prison sentence and an unlimited fine.
The Metropolitan Police later released a statement about the arrest, announcing that “The Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) have since assessed the footage and found no indication of misconduct. The arrest will not be subject to a full DPS review,” closing the door to any investigative report on policing standards.
Sherwood defended his actions, claiming that he was not making “homophobic” comments, rather he was simply “defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman,” according to a report in the Daily Mail.
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“I was only saying what the Bible says – I wasn’t wanting to hurt anyone or cause offence. I was doing what my job description says, which is to preach the gospel in open air as well as in a church building.”
Sherwood explained to police that by preaching from the Bible he was exercising religious liberty as well as his conscience. Subsequently, “I was forcibly pulled down from the steps and suffered some injury to my wrist and to my elbow. I do believe I was treated shamefully. It should never have happened,” Sherwood said.
A spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police told Premier Christian News that “At 13:35hrs on Friday, 23 April, officers on patrol were flagged down by a member of the public who made them aware of a man allegedly making homophobic comments close to Uxbridge Underground Station.”
“A number of other people also approached the officers with concerns about the man’s language.”
“Officers spoke with the 71-year-old man and he was subsequently arrested on suspicion of an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order Act.”
Sherwood revealed that he was left bruised by the arrest and that, while in police custody, he was quizzed on his attitude toward gay people and how he would react to having homosexual children.
“The question was irrelevant to the allegation against me. I said I would seek to bring them to Christ, but of course I would love them no matter what, because they’re my children,” Sherwood responded.
Sherwood’s colleague, Peter Simpson, who was preaching alongside Sherwood, argued that police officers should be focused on asking questions “about the specific alleged offence” in a case, “not more general questions about why someone holds a personal view on an aspect of Biblical morality” in an article published by The Conservative Woman.
Simpson wrote that the police told him that “some matters,” namely concerning sexual ethics, “simply cannot be referred to in public places, because there is no freedom to make statements which offend people.”
Highlighting the hypocrisy of the authorities regarding the application of this standard, Simpson responded that “the police would have no objection whatsoever to a Pride parade being held in Uxbridge, yet that would be highly offensive to Bible-believing Christians.” Simpson related that the officer he spoke with “did not appear to appreciate the logic behind this argument” before adding that “there is no law stating that people have a right never to be offended.”
Concluding his statement, Simpson noted that the arrest “of a faithful minister for doing nothing other than declaring what the Bible teaches about one of the important moral issues of our time reveals a dangerous assault upon freedom of speech and, not least, upon the freedom of Christian pastors to declare in public all that the Bible teaches.”
“The State has no right to designate that some parts of God’s word are no-go areas,” he declared.
Andrea Williams, the Christian Legal Centre’s chief executive, weighed in on Sherwood’s arrest: “Street preaching has a long and honoured history in the UK. In many ways it is symbolic of the kind of freedoms we have treasured in this nation. So to see a 75-year-old (sic) pastor arrested in such a manner for preaching the Gospel (sic) in London is deeply concerning.”
“The laws to protect the freedom to preach in public are very strong. Sadly, what we are seeing all too often is police officers who are quick to arrest at the first suggestion that a member of the public is offended because of the prevailing cancel culture.”